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Petition for Exemption From the Federal Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention Standard; General Motors

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National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Department of Transportation (DOT).


Grant of petition for exemption.


This document grants in full the petition of General Motors Corporation (GM) for an exemption of a high-theft line, the Pontiac Grand Prix, from the parts-marking requirements of the Federal Motor Vehicle Theft Prevention Standard. This petition is granted because the agency has determined that the antitheft device to be placed on the line as standard equipment is likely to be as effective in reducing and deterring motor vehicle theft as compliance with the parts-marking requirements of the Theft Prevention Standard.


The exemption granted by this notice is effective beginning with model year (MY) 2003.

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Ms. Rosalind Proctor, Office of Planning and Consumer Programs, NHTSA, 200 Seventh Street, SW., Washington, DC Start Printed Page 3312720590. Ms. Proctor's telephone number is (202) 366-0846. Her fax number is (202) 493-2290.

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In a petition dated February 22, 2001, General Motors Corporation (GM), requested an exemption from the parts-marking requirements of the Theft Prevention Standard (49 CFR part 541) for the Pontiac Grand Prix vehicle line beginning with MY 2003.

The petition is pursuant to 49 CFR part 543, Exemption From Vehicle Theft Prevention Standard, which provides for exemptions based on the installation of an antitheft device as standard equipment on a vehicle line.

Section 33106(b)(2)(D) of Title 49, United States Code, authorized the Secretary of Transportation to grant an exemption from the parts marking requirements for not more than one additional line of a manufacturer for MYs 1997-2000. However, it does not address the contingency of what to do after model year 2000 in the absence of a decision under section 33103(d). 49 U.S.C. 33103(d)(3) states that the number of lines for which the agency can grant an exemption is to be decided after the Attorney General completes a review of the effectiveness of antitheft devices and finds that antitheft devices are an effective substitute for parts marking. The Attorney General has not yet made a finding and has not decided the number of lines, if any, for which the agency will be authorized to grant an exemption. Upon consulting with the Department of Justice, we determined that the appropriate reading of section 33103(d) is that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may continue to grant parts-marking exemptions for not more than one additional model line each year, as specified for model years 1997-2000 by 49 U.S.C. 33106(b)(2)(C). This is the level contemplated by the Act for the period before the Attorney General's decision. The final decision on whether to continue granting exemptions will be made by the Attorney General at the conclusion of the review pursuant to section 330103(d)(3).

GM's submission is considered a complete petition as required by 49 CFR 543.7, in that it met the general requirements contained in § 543.5 and the specific content requirements of § 543.6.

In its petition, GM provided a detailed description and diagram of the identity, design, and location of the components of the antitheft device for that vehicle line. GM will install its PASS-Key III antitheft device as standard equipment on its MY 2003 Pontiac Grand Prix vehicle line. GM stated that the PASS-Key III device provides the same kind of functionality as the PASS-Key and PASS-Key II devices, which have been the basis for exemptions previously granted to GM. However, the PASS-Key III device uses more advanced technology than the PASS-Key II device and provides new features and refinements.

GM compared the PASS-Key III device proposed for the Pontiac Grand Prix line with its first generation PASS-Key device, which the agency has determined to be as effective in reducing and deterring motor vehicle theft as would compliance with the parts-marking requirements. The PASS-Key III device utilizes a special ignition key and decoder module. The conventional mechanical key unlocks and releases the transmission lever. Before the vehicle can be operated, the key's electrical code must be sensed by the key cylinder and properly decoded by the decoder module.

Specifically, the PASS-Key III device uses a transponder embedded in the head of the key which is excited by a coil surrounding the key cylinder. The transponder in the key then emits a modulated signal at a specified radio frequency. The identity of the key is a unique code within the modulated signal. The key cylinder coil receives and sends the modulated signal to the decoder. When the decoder module recognizes a valid key code, it sends a encoded message to the Powertrain Control Module (PCM) to enable fuel flow and starter operation. If an invalid key is detected, the PASS-Key III decoder module will transmit a different password to the PCM to disable fuel flow and starter operation.

The PASS-Key III device has the potential for over four trillion unique electrical key codes. GM believes that the sheer volume of these codes is a highly effective deterrent to the common intruder. The PASS-Key III device is designed to shut down for three to four minutes if an invalid key is detected, preventing further attempts to start the vehicle during that shutdown.

GM states that the design and assembly process of the PASS-Key III device and components are validated for a vehicle life of 10 years and 150,000 miles of performance. In order to ensure the reliability and durability of the device, GM conducted tests, based on its own specified standards. GM provided a detailed list of the tests conducted. GM stated its belief that the device is reliable and durable since it complied with the specified requirements for each test.

GM stated that its PASS-Key III device will provide protection against unauthorized use of the vehicle. The device is activated when the owner/operator turns off the ignition of the vehicle and removes the key. According to GM, no other intentional action is necessary to achieve protection of the vehicle other than removing the key from the ignition. The PASS-Key III is designed to be active at all times without direct intervention by the operator. Visible or audible reminders beyond the key warning buzzer will not be provided.

GM stated that the theft rates, as reported by the National Crime Information Center, are lower for GM models equipped with PASS-Key devices which have been granted exemptions from the parts-marking requirements than theft rates for similar, earlier models that have been parts-marked. Therefore, GM concludes that the PASS-Key-like devices are more effective in deterring motor vehicle theft than the parts-marking requirements of 49 CFR part 541.

Further, GM states that the PASS-Key III device has been designed to significantly enhance the functionality and theft protection provided by earlier generations of PASS-Key devices. Based on the performance of PASS-Key and PASS-Key II devices on other GM models, and the advanced technology utilized in the PASS-Key III device, GM believes that the PASS-Key III device will be more effective in deterring theft than the parts-marking requirements of 49 CFR Part 541.

GM also stated that as with previous PASS-Key devices, the PASS-Key III device will not provide any visible or audible indication of unauthorized entry. However, based on comparison of the reduction in theft rates of Chevrolet Corvettes using a passive antitheft device and an audible/visible alarm with the reduction in theft rates for the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird models equipped with a passive antitheft device without an alarm, GM believes that an alarm or similar attention attracting device is not necessary and does not compromise the antitheft performance of their systems.

The agency notes that the reason that the vehicle lines whose theft data GM cites in support of its petition received only a partial exemption from parts-marking was that the agency did not believe that the antitheft devices on these vehicles (PASS-Key and PASS-Key II) by itself would be as effective as parts-marking in deterring theft because it lacked an alarm system. On that basis, it decided to require GM to mark the vehicle's most interchangeable parts Start Printed Page 33128(the engine and transmission), as a supplement to the antitheft device. Like those earlier antitheft devices GM used, the device on which this petition is based also lacks an alarm system. Accordingly, it cannot perform one of the functions listed in 49 CFR part 543.6(a)(3), that is, it cannot call attention to unauthorized attempts to enter or move the vehicle.

After deciding those petitions, however, the agency obtained theft data that show declining theft rates for GM vehicles equipped with either version of the PASS-Key device. Based on that data, it concluded that the lack of a visible or audible alarm had not prevented the antitheft device from being effective protection against theft and granted two GM petitions for full exemptions for four car lines equipped with the PASS-Key II device. The agency granted in full the petition for the Buick Riviera and Oldsmobile Aurora car lines beginning with model year 1995, (see 58 FR 44872, August 25, 1993), and the Chevrolet Lumina (Lumina/Monte Carlo) and Buick Regal car lines beginning with model year 1996, (see 60 FR 25938, May 15, 1995). In those instances, the agency concluded that a full exemption was warranted because PASS-Key II had shown itself as likely as parts-marking to be effective protection against theft despite the absence of a visible or audible alarm.

The agency concludes that, given the similarities between the PASS-Key III device and the earlier PASS-Key devices (PASS-Key and PASS-Key II), it is reasonable to assume that PASS-Key III device, like those devices, will be as effective as parts-marking in deterring theft. The agency believes that the device will provide the other types of performance listed in 49 CFR 543.6(a)(3): promoting activation; preventing defeat or circumvention of the device by unauthorized persons; preventing operation of the vehicle by unauthorized entrants; and ensuring the reliability and durability of the device.

NHTSA has also granted for four petitions for modification of an exemption in full for seven car lines which have the “PASS-Key III” device as standard equipment. Those lines are the Buick Park Avenue (see 61 FR 25734, May 22, 1996) beginning with the 1997 model year, the Cadillac Seville (see 62 FR 20058, April 24, 1997) beginning with the 1998 model year, the Cadillac DeVille, Pontiac Bonneville, Buick LeSabre and Oldsmobile Aurora (see 64 FR 29736, June 2, 1999) and the Chevrolet Venture (see 66 FR 24179, May 11, 2001) beginning with the 2002 model year.

As required by 49 U.S.C. 33106 and 49 CFR 543.6(a)(4) and (5), the agency finds that GM has provided adequate reasons for its belief that the antitheft device will reduce and deter theft. This conclusion is based on the information GM provided about its antitheft device, some of which includes confidential information describing reliability and functional tests conducted by GM for the antitheft device and its components. GM requested confidential treatment for some of the information and attachments submitted in support of its position. In a letter to GM dated March 22, 2001, the agency granted the petitioner's request for confidential treatment of these materials.

For the foregoing reasons, the agency hereby grants in full GM's petition for exemption for the MY 2003 Pontiac Grand Prix vehicle line from the parts-marking requirements of 49 CFR part 541.

If GM decides not to use the exemption for this line, it must notify the agency formally, and thereafter must mark the line fully as required by 49 CFR 541.5 and 541.6 (marking of major component parts and replacement parts).

NHTSA notes that if GM wishes in the future to modify the device on which this exemption is based, the company may have to submit a petition to modify the exemption. § 543.7(d) states that a part 543 exemption applies only to vehicles that belong to a line exempted under this part and equipped with the antitheft device on which the line's exemption is based. Further § 543.9(c)(2) provides for the submission of petitions “to modify an exemption to permit the use of an antitheft device similar to but differing from the one specified in that exemption.”

The agency did not intend in drafting part 543 to require the submission of a modification petition for every change to the components or design of an antitheft device. The significance of many such changes could be de minimis. The agency wishes to minimize the administrative burden which § 543.9(c)(2) could place on exempted vehicle manufacturers and itself. Therefore, NHTSA suggests that if the manufacturer contemplates making any changes the effects of which might be characterized by de minimis, it should consult the agency before preparing and submitting a petition to modify.

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Authority: 49 U.S.C. 33106; delegation of authority at 49 CFR 1.50.

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Issued on: June 14, 2001.

Stephen R. Kratzke,

Associate Administrator for Safety Performance Standards.

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[FR Doc. 01-15493 Filed 6-19-01; 8:45 am]